Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why Do Movies Have To Be So Violent?

Violence in films seems to have become more prevalent over the last 40 years. During this period, movies have shifted from the suggested gore of Psycho to the graphically violent and menacing American Psycho. Even films rated as suitable for family viewing, such as Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, contain violent scenes. Adapted from the children’s book by J.R.R. Tolkein, there are plenty of fights and battles in the original version of The Hobbit, of course. However, the details are left to the reader's imagination.
Just as The Hobbit was based on a semi-violent fantasy, some films are based on very violent books and even true stories. Gangster movies are a good example; the life of a gangster involves guns, drugs, booze and a certain disrespect for human life. Arguably Scarface would be a weaker film without its iconic climax which sees Tony Montana going out of his mind in his mansion, shooting wildly at his rival’s men as they swarm all over his home.
Movie violence has, however, been blamed for causing or inspiring violent behaviour in real life. Recently Quentin Tarantino was questioned on Channel 4 News about whether there might be any link between the graphic violence depicted in his movies and real-life acts of violence, but he famously refused to discuss the matter.
There was a more subtle era before the excessive blood and explosions of films such as The Terminator, but film-makers seem to have abandoned this in favour of gritty realism. Takashi Miike has gone one step further: his film Ichi the Killer features an assassin and a Yakuza (the name given to the Japanese mafia) enforcer who go about Tokyo causing as much pain and havoc as possible.
The major characters all sport classic trench coats, a motif used to highlight who the most dangerous characters are. This is a gangster film on another level. There does seem to be some justification for the excessive blood and pain portrayed in Ichi the Killer; it is as much a commentary on violence as it is a celebration of artistic liberty. But in comparison with Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, which was withdrawn from release in the UK when it first came out, Ichi the Killer goes to show how lenient censorship has become.
In the last half century, film-makers have dispensed with subtle conventions for concealing explicit violence in favour of a more realistic approach. Censorship has, in turn, relaxed, as showing a certain amount of violence is now often seen as integral to a film's plot, character, setting and theme. However, this has led to two extremes: over-the-top gore-fests and hyper-realism. It is important to maintain a balance of realism and subtlety in films in which violence is depicted. The audience doesn’t want to feel sick or scared that the people on the screen are really getting hurt, but they do need to feel invested and believe in what they are watching.
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3 comments

Katy said...

I totally agree with you. My biggest problem with the violence is the glorification of it. Like in the movie Chicago, the characters are rewarded for murdering their husbands. At least in classic gangster movies, many of the characters are killed (like in The Departed). Even though it isn't graphic in nature, it still glorifies it...

Louise from: //This Book Is Reserved// said...

Yeah, I agree with you, I feel as if violence in films has become so detached from reality - it's as if you feel nothing when someone is brutally murdered in a film because it's such an everyday occurrence. Similarly, because of this attitude it's then taken far too lightly when it comes to the treatment of those which commit the crimes. Thank you for commenting! Louise

whatemmadidnext said...

It's a good question. But as people growing up in the west, it is very easy for us to dismiss acts of extreme violence as fantasy whereas in other parts of the world the violence us westerners see on film is a common occurrence. So in balance why should a film director's shy away from the darker parts of human nature. Great Blog Post and interesting question.

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